Referendum held in Luhansk, Kherson, and part of Russia-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions . Moscow-installed officials plan to carry ballots to homes and install makeshift polling stations .
KYIV: In referendums against which Kyiv and the West labelled an illegal and rigged attempt by Moscow to annex areas in the east and south after nearly seven months of war, voting began Friday on whether occupied areas of Ukraine should become part of Russia.During the polling, United Nations officials and Ukrainian officials pointed to new evidence of war crimes in Ukraine.Officials from the Kharkiv region said a mass burial site in the eastern city of Izium contained hundreds of bodies, including at least 30 bodies that showed signs of torture.Residents asked if the regions to be part of Russia were asked to participate in Kremlin-orchestrated referendums in the Luhansk, Kherson, and part of Russia-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.Residents of a small Moscow-controlled area of the neighboring Mykolaiv region will be able to vote, according to Russian-installed authorities in the Kherson area, who said the vote was illegal and the West had described it as a sham and an illegitimate move toward the annexation of a large area of the region from the Russian border to the Crimean Peninsula.In 2014, a similar referendum was held in Crimea before Moscow annexed it, a move that was considered illegal by the rest of the world.According to Russian-installed officials in the occupied regions, election officials planned to carry ballots to homes and install makeshift polling stations near residential buildings in the first four days of voting.On Friday morning, Russian state television shows teams of election officials marching into a suburban neighborhood, one of whom was joined by a masked police officer carrying an assault rifle. According to the Russians, there is a huge resistance and fear to attend the referendum and are compelled to bring people... to create a picture and a sensation of the vote, he said.A door-to-door poll is being conducted by groups of colaborators and Russians as well as armed forces, but only a handful of people know how to use them.In Russia, elections were also held, where refugees and other residents from those countries could vote.Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-backed separatist leader in the Donetsk region, called the referendum a historic event. Gov.Serhii Haidai of Luhansk has accused Russian officials of taking down the names of those who opposed him.Haidai also claimed that Russian officials threatened to close down any person who wanted to vote and posted pictures of what seemed to be two abandoned polling stations in online posts.In an address to Russian people, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy only briefly referred to the sham referendums, in which he switched from Ukrainian to Russian to explicitly warn Russian people they were being forced to die. You were silent, you said.Because you are silent.And now it's time for you to make your own decision.For men in Russia, it's a choice to die or live, to become a cripple, or to maintain fitness. The election takes place against a backdrop of persistent conflict in Ukraine, where Russian and Ukrainian forces are battling it out as both sides refuse to give up ground.At least 30 of the 436 bodies exhumed so far in Izium bore signs of torture, according to Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synyehubov and the regions police chief, Volodymyr Tymoshko.According to them, the bodies of 21 Ukrainian soldiers were among them, some of whom were discovered with their hands tied behind their backs.Russian forces occupied Izium for six months before being forced out by a Ukrainian counteroffensive earlier this month. As investigators continue to identify victims and the cause of death, the exhumations, which began a week ago, are coming to an end.An on-site DNA lab was located near the burial site.According to Synyehubov, each organ has its own story.Experts who were hired by the United Nations Human Rights Council also submitted evidence of potential war crimes in Russian detention facilities on Friday, including beatings, electric shocks, and forced nudity, and expressed concern about the killings that the team was trying to track down in Kharkiv and the regions of Chernihiv, and Sumy. On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putins ordered a partial mobilization of reservists that, according to the defense minister, would amount to about 300,000 troops.Men held their weeping family members before departing as part of the call-up, which has sparked fears that a larger draft might follow.On Saturday, Russian antiwar demonstrators decided to stage demonstrations against the protest.In the last 24 hours, Ukraine's presidential office reported that Russian shelling killed at least ten civilians and injured 39 others in nine Ukrainian territories. Heavy fighting also erupted in the Donetsk region, where Russian attacks targeted Toretsk, Sloviansk, and several smaller towns.On the western bank of the Dnieper River, Russian shelling killed two people and wounded nine others in Marhanets.Military casualties could be higher than the 9,000 troops that were killed in combat, according to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar, because authorities now don't know how many troops died in the three-month siege of Mariupol, which fell to the Russians in May.Malyar said that Ukraine's losses were much smaller than those of Russia.